Sitting in the main plaza of Trujillo as the sun goes down with a cold beer is a little piece of heaven. The ancient stone of the 16th century palaces reflects the golden light, a stork flies over the tolling bell tower, slowly the plaza fills for the hour of the passeo. The whole town is a delight, wandering through the winding streets past the palaces and churches built with the riches brought back from Peru by conquistadors such as Pizzaro together with his Inca wife, their portraits carved on the Pizzaro Palace.
Secret gardens glimpsed through closed gates, jasmine spilling over high walls. Check out tips for Caceres, Merida and Extremadura for more ideas on exploring Extremadura.
Trujillo is 40kms from Caceres and the same distance to Montanchez
Tourists to Egypt hear much of Akhenaten, the probable father of Tutankhamun, who tried to replace worship of the traditional Egyptian gods with a sort of monotheism devoted to the sun-disk.
Objects from his reign form one of the most spectacular displays in the Cairo Museum but few ever visit his short lived capital city at Tell el-Amarna (which gives its name to the period and the artistic style of the times). Little remains of the city itself (although the setting is highly atmospheric) but the tombs of the king and his courtiers in the cliffs and wadis to the east are among the finest in the country, and mercifully free of marauding tourists – I was the only person at the site the day I visited.
A visit requires several hours and is probably best arranged as part of a stop-over in the nearby city of el-Minya (150 miles south of Cairo) which has several comfortable hotels. A military escort is required to travel through this part of the country although there is no real threat – it’s more like getting the VIP treatment.
Often overlooked in favour of Giza, Saqqara is a far more varied archaeological site, and is much less crowded, both with tourists and the tat-hawkers that tend to go with them.
Here, you get to see the earliest pyramid – the so-called ‘Step Pyramid’, which is still impressive in size and is set in a partly-restored ‘complex’ of buildings. Various other pyramids in more or less romantically-ruinous states are scattered around the site, together with some of the most wonderfully decorated private tombs in Egypt.
With these, though, as with lots of sites in Egypt, it’s almost impossible to say what will be open and what won’t, because that information seems to change rather haphazardly. Get here under your own steam by a taxi from Cairo to make sure you can wander around the many acres of ruins without worrying about getting back on to a coach.
One thing not to miss is the pyramid of Unas – start at his pyramid and then walk down its ‘causeway’, which has private tombs built all around it.
For non-beach orientated things to do, the size and decoration of the Kom el-Shuqafa catacombs will remind you of a Spielberg film.
As for food, the Kadora (pronounced A-Dora) and the fish market offer some of the best seafood in Egypt.
A pleasant way to end a day's exploring is to take a calèch ride from near the Cecil Hotel, along the Western harbour, and then retrace your route on foot for a bite to eat at the fish market.
Giza can be a nightmare. Its atmosphere has been ruined by the road, the coaches, the thousands of tourists and a seemingly equal number of Egyptians offering tacky souvenirs and camel rides at inflated prices. This is no coincidence however, it being the site at which the pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty at last nailed the art of pyramid building.
One of their predecessors, Sneferu, did much of the ground work however. He erected two monuments of his own at the much quieter site of Dahshur, a few miles south of Giza.
The earlier of the two is the ‘bent’ pyramid, so-named because the king’s architect got his sums wrong and had to change the angle of incline halfway up. The second, the ‘red’ pyramid was an unqualified success: a straight sided pyramid, smaller only than the great pyramid itself.
The interior of the red pyramid with its corbel vaulted ceiling is well worth a look, and the bent-pyramid preserves much of the outer casing that was stripped from the Giza pyramids centuries ago. The lack of tourists gives you a chance to take in the immensity of these monuments.
Although you kind of have to go to Giza, I highly recommend seeing Dahshur as well – it’s what Giza ought to be like.
Although millions of tourists visit the west bank at Luxor every year the area is so rich in archaeology that it is not difficult to find quiet and equally spectacular monuments away from the hordes.
Just across the road from the bazaars and the coach-park at the Hatshepsut temple a jumble of mud-brick remains marks the cemetery of el-Asasif, site of some of the largest and most spectacular tombs anywhere in the country.
Three of its tombs are open to the public: that of Kheruef of the 18th Dynasty, and those of Pabasa and Ankh-hor of the 26th. Their subterranean ‘sun-courts’ are unique to this area, and each of the tombs preserves beautiful relief decoration of varying styles.
I would highly recommend taking a walk from here back to the road through the crumbling remains of tombs yet to be investigated; at the road I recommend hailing one of the local service taxis and riding back to the river with the locals for a few piasters, rather than taking a private car for 100 times the price.
Egypt decided some years ago that it was relatively unsafe to allow tourists to travel outside the established tourist centres; as a result several isolated, but nonetheless spectacular sites in between Cairo, Luxor and Aswan are infrequently visited.
For those looking for archaeological adventures away from the hordes, I highly recommend making arrangements (in hotels or with taxi drivers) to join the daily convoy down-river (north) from Luxor to see Dendera and Abydos. The former is the site of one of Egypt’s best preserved monuments, the Ptolemaic and Roman temple of Dendera, with scenes of Cleopatra VII (the Cleopatra) and her son Ceasarion; at the latter the atmospheric temple of Sety I and his son Ramesses the Great features some of the most beautiful relief decoration anywhere in Egypt.
The drive is fairly lengthy but provides an excellent opportunity to see the Egyptian countryside.
It's well worth staying the course and ending the day at Petra. The rocks take on a deep pink/red hue as the sun sets, plus as the site empties of people you are left to behold the beauty of the carvings in relative peace.
When I visited (April 2007) they were placing lit candles for a Petra At Night Walk - adding even more romantic beauty to the carvings and the walk back up the sique.
Travelling through the Nile delta from Cairo gives a very different perspective on the country from the usual boat trip down the Nile.
Arriving at Tell Basta, now a suburb of Zagazig) provides an idea of how the ruins across the whole country may once have looked (a true Ozymandias moment). This monumental site (once the home of a huge temple structure dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet) accommodated religious festivals that numbered hundreds of thousands of participants, now it is little more than a field of rubble.
However, if you have been to any of the great temple structures (Luxor, Karnak etc) you will be able to see the layout and structure of the site through the debris. The lack of tourists, combined with the thrill of identifying key elements within the site, as well as coming across the scattered remains of monumental statues, secured this as one of the most unique parts of our Egyptian trip. There is also an interesting cat necropolis on the site.
In the early morning, there are groups of people practicing all types of kung fu and tai chi chuan. Many people contentedly entertain each other with music, songs or quietly playing cards. You can also practice with them if you are so inclined. This is another good activity for the jetlagged.
What makes the temple unique is the century-old trees - line upon line of Chinese cypress, Chinese juniper and scholar trees. Some of the cypresses are more than 600 years old. Dr Henry Kissinger, when he visited the temple, stated that while the USA could recreate the Temple of Heaven if it desired, it could not create the trees!
Stay at the Feathers Hotel. Although there are several hotels in Helmsley, Feathers appealed for friendliness, convenience, and low-key comfort.
Use this as your headquarters to visit the abbeys - they are all quite wonderful and unique. And when sick of people, drive into the moors, especially in the "off" season such as November.
Feathers, Helmsley, Yorkshire
The old town is a beautiful reminder of the 2000 year history of Lagos. Although most of it was destroyed in the tsunami and earthquake of 1755, there are still old buildings from the 16th century and the governor's castle.
There is a marina for boats from all over the world, dolphin watching by experts, coastal cave exploring in small boats with guides, and some of the best golf courses in Portugal nearby.
Shopping is a delight, with leather goods on every street corner and craft stalls, manned by the friendliest people anywhere.
Forested Himalayan foothills, rushing rivers, Tibetan hamlets of timber houses with prayer flag-bedecked cantilevered wooden bridges, and a steep climb to C17th Cheri Gompa monastery with its temples and houses founded by Bhutan's first ruler. Sip butter tea, and picnic with the locals and lots of dogs.
15km north of Thimpu along the Wang Chu River, beyond Dechencholing, the Queen Mother's Palace.
Kootenay follows the Great Divide, west of Banff, bought up for a railway scheme but eventually sold to the government. It's a long winding valley with fine mountains and lots of local as well as backcountry trails.
It's largely ignored compared to Banff and Louise probably because it doesn't have big hotels and tourist infrastructure. But what it does have is fantastic mountain scenery and some quirky sights like the old paint pots, iron laden clays used for dyes, and marble canyon where the river rushes through tight gorges.
The hike up to Stanley glacier is magical, and you'll have plenty of pikas (rock rabbits) whistling you on the way. Kootenay Park Lodge has 10 historic but simple log cabins and good home cooking at affordable rates. Waking up to the sun rising on the mountains here is worth any journey.
Kootenay national park, 2 hours west from Banff, follow the quieter scenic Highway 1a before turning west towards Radium Hot Springs and you're soon in the Park. Lodge details at www.kootenayparklodge.com/
Vibrant is the only word I can use to describe my two-day visit to Belfast. The place simply buzzed with activity and on an afternoon when an autumn sun shone over a reborn city - it made me feel like I'd been missing out on life since the last time I had been there.
There are many ways to get around the city but I chose to take a bus - the bus guide displaying ample amounts of Belfast humour as we made our way down roads which once had been the subject of so much news footage (Shankill and Falls) - her jokes taking the sting out of sensitive issues and thereby sentencing them, we hoped, to history forever. Surely nobody could joke about 'the troubles' unless they felt certain they were well behind them.
She really didn't have any cause to emphasise the fact though as it was apparent to all who rode the bright red double decker that this was indeed the case - every street it turned down packed with well-dressed pedestrians availing of every possible facility - and no doubt looking forward to those soon to open up all around them.
I stayed at the Belfast International Hostel, 22-23 Donegall Road, Belfast BT12 5JN. Double en suite room cost 28 sterling. Bookable through www.hostelworld.com
Cosy tea room/bistro/restaurant (mind your head!) at beautiful Cramond on the quayside of the River Almond and Forth. A great selection of home cooked local recipes, soups with home made bread, full meals or just a tea, coffee or chocolate and cake.
The stone built artisans cottage was once a cooperage for the long gone brewing pub next door. Lovely walks along the beaches and fields away from the Edinburgh crowds, but within walking distance of the city (four-five miles).
On the waterfront at Cramond, watch the boats swans and seabirds. Buses and a big car park up the hill.
This is a great trip round a historic centre. We travelled over on the old prison boats. Former inmates of the prison guide you round and bring home what life was really like for them, and the horrors of apartheid. There is also a bus tour of the island, including a stop outside the house of Robert Sobukwe, leader of the Pan African Congress. He was kept here in isolation following his release from prison because the authorities were so afraid of the popular support for this man who broke from the ANC and advocated the use of arms in the struggle.
Be warned you need to book tickets in advance – best to go to the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront to do this at least one day before you want to visit. We tried phoning to book but were told there was a 2 week wait! When we went along we got tickets for the next day! They are about to bring new bigger boats into service because of the demand, so it may get easier.
While you are waiting why not go to see the small museum at Jetty One (free entry), listen to audio recording of former prisoners, their families, lawyers and prison employees in the bleak waiting room where they had to wait for boats.
Much more than the Treasury famously visited by Indiana Jones (fantastic facade but no interior), Petra is a whole hidden city later overlaid by a Roman town. The walk down the narrow siq gives no clue as to the scale of what's in store. It takes at least two days to see it all. The red and pink striped colours of the soft sandstone are astonishing. After a glass of mint tea make the climb up to the monastery, or hire a donkey or camel to get you there.
It's worth visiting Little Petra a few kilometres away with more intimate streets and cave houses. Plenty of hotels of all grades in the busy small town that has sprung up to cater for visitors, and excellant levante food.
A few hours north of Aquaba via Wadi Rum, or half a day south of Aman. Plenty of buses or tours
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